Chasing satisfaction

Senior SU distance runner Griff Graves is waiting for his chance to return to the track.

Everybody who runs does so with a purpose.  For some, that purpose may be to get in or stay in shape. For some, it may be for the ultimate enjoyment of playing another sport. But for others, it may be for the enjoyment of the run itself.  For many, there may be multiple purposes.

For Griff Graves, a senior distance runner on the track and field team, that purpose is singular: “Winning,” Graves said.  And no, Griff Graves is not a pseudonym for Charlie Sheen.

Photo: Michele Maciejewski

Graves’ teammates and roommates, seniors Tito Medrano and Roman Acosta, agree. 

“None of that staying healthy crap,” Medrano said. “We’re racing, competing. We want to beat people. We run for the competition, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.” 

“And it’s definitely not for that endorphins BS,” Graves said. “The only thing I feel that keeps me going is the feeling of competition and striving to win.”

Graves, who has yet to compete this season due to a stress fracture in his foot, said he hopes to regain that feeling and rejoin his team in competition soon. Though no timetable is set for Graves’ return from the injury, the team will race Friday and Saturday without him in the Valentine Invitational in Boston, Mass., and the Kane Invitational in Ithaca, N.Y.

While he was growing up in Opelika, Ala., Graves' father, Tom Graves, a legendary distance runner for Auburn University, turned him on to running. Though Graves was initially drawn toward baseball, football and swimming, his dad turned his interest and excitement toward running. But Graves learned early on that running does not beget satisfaction. 

“I remember after I won a state championship during my sophomore year of high school, my dad was pissed at me and I mean really pissed off because I didn’t run the fastest time of the day.  He told me, ‘Maybe you’re just not going to be that good.’” 

The mentality has instilled in Graves valuable toughness and self-determination.

“It angered me,” Graves said. “Brought me to tears even, when he told me that. I even quit for a day. But then I realized that was stupid. This is who I am. I’m a runner, and I’m just going to get better.”

The lengthy shadow cast by Tom Graves, a seven-time All-American, is difficult to outrun, and the expectations that accompany it are heavy, but they are not burdens that weigh Graves down, he said. Instead, they are motivators that propel him forward.

Rather than shy away from such tough mentoring and high expectations, Graves sought them out when he chose to run at Syracuse. Head track and field coach Chris Fox ran with Tom Graves at Auburn and is equally demanding. 

“I’ll always be living in his shadow until I beat him and accomplish more than he did,” Graves said. “But even then I won’t be satisfied … I always want to keep pushing, keep going, keep getting better.”

That drive to keep going can sometimes have a negative effect, as he has experienced several injuries throughout his career. The most recent example is the stress fracture that relegated him to the sidelines.

“Distance runners are acclimated to pushing themselves beyond their limits,” Graves said. “We push our bodies to everything they have. We want to hurt as much as we can because that’s the only way to get better.”

The time away from running has been tough for Graves, yet he has not shrunken away from his teammates. The senior has maintained an active training schedule and is known to provide motivation for practice sessions in which he can’t participate.

“He’s gone above and beyond what he needs to do,” Medrano said. “He’s done an incredible amount of cross-training to be prepared when he comes back, and he’s always a part of team activities and encouraging everybody.” 

Graves credits the toughness he gained from his father for his ability to cope with injury, but he sees the same mental strength and the same passion for running in his teammates.  

This team-wide toughness, passion for the sport and disdain for satisfaction is what gives the group its potential. Graves believes the team “has the talent to be special … to make podium [finish in the top three] at Nationals and maybe even win a NCAA championship.”

“It’s an environment where people live and breathe running,” he said. “We’re all scared as hell to just be normal or to settle. We’re stubborn, and we’re never satisfied.”

Individually, Graves hopes to garner All-American honors and to eventually make Olympic trials and run professionally.  But for now, he is just eager to rejoin his teammates. 

“I’m looking forward to being back alongside the guys that love running, having great workouts, setting big [personal records] and just running. Winning.”

So when Graves runs, what is his purpose?  He runs because he is always chasing something whether it’s the rare opponent ahead of him, a new personal record, his father’s times, team glory or individual accolades. But no matter how many of those goals Graves may catch, surpass and achieve, the one thing that will always elude him is personal satisfaction; he believes he can always do better.

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